Tuesday, March 31, 2020

2020 Pre-Season Profile: Texas Rangers


The Texas Rangers might be more frustrated with the delayed start to the season than any other team as they have to delay the opening of their brand new stadium.  When the stadium finally opens, will it lead to greater success for the Rangers in 2020?

2019 Predictions
#26 - 5th in AL West
MIH: Elvis Andrus
MIP: Jose Leclerc
PTW: Jonathan Hernandez
FP: No pitcher for the Rangers will throw over 150 innings in 2019.

2019 Results
#17 - 78-84, 3rd in AL West

The Rangers had much greater success in 2019 than I anticipated behind first year manager Chris Woodward.  Almost reaching .500, the Rangers took great strides forward in getting back to the top of the division and the league.  One of the only holdovers left from the World Series team, Elvis Andrus feels like he has been around forever even though 2019 was only his age 30 season.  He was once again solid at shortstop finishing as the team's 5th best overall player in terms of WAR.  Jose Leclerc, on the other hand, followed up a career year in 2018 with a lackluster season in 2019.  He is a bounceback candidate in 2020.  My Prospect to Watch, Jonathan Hernandez, ended up not having any impact at all, only pitching 16 innings in 9 games as he struggled with control.  The real stars of the season for the Rangers were veteran starting pitchers Mike Minor and Lance Lynn.  Both completely resurrected their careers in their early 30's by becoming the two best players on the team and making my Fearless Prediction look foolish.  Both pitchers ended up not only over 150 innings, but they both finished at the same total of 208.1 innings.

Additions / Subtractions

The offseason for the Rangers was an interesting one as they are trying to keep on their current trajectory while still opening up their new stadium with a bang.  So they traded outfielder Delino DeShields for ace Corey Kluber and signed veteran Todd Frazier to man the hot corner after losing out on the Anthony Rendon sweepstakes.  Then they also traded their young slugging rightfielder Nomar Mazara to the White Sox for a prospect.  Then they rounded out their rotation with veterean arms Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles.  So it was combination of wanting to win now but also not giving up the future at the same time.

Most Important Hitter
Willie Calhoun

Once the centerpiece of the package the Rangers got from the Dodgers for Yu Darvish, Willie Calhoun has greatly struggled so far in his big league career.  Only playing in 131 games over the last 3 seasons, Calhoun has hit .269 with 21 homers and an OPS+ of 96, making him an average hitter.  He took some decent strides in 2019, but now he will be expected to start to show some of that promise as he enters his age 25 season, especially after the Rangers traded DeShields and Mazara.  He needs to be an everyday player while also showing the superstar sparks that made him a top 10 prospect in all of baseball at one point for the Rangers to really take great steps forward.

Most Important Pitcher
Corey Kluber

It is rare that I name a new addition as a team's most important player, but I really think Corey Kluber is that for the Rangers this season.  Mike Minor and Lance Lynn anchored this rotation last season and did an admirable job, but you can't really depend on the same performance.  Kluber is an ace that really makes this rotation borderline elite ... if he is healthy.  He missed most of 2019 with injury which allowed the Rangers to buy low on the two-time Cy Young Award winner.  They got him for a bargain because it is a risk that he returns to his elite form in his age 34 season.  It is also the last year of his deal before he is a free agent.  So best-case scenario, Kluber returns to elite form and leads the Rangers to a successful season and chooses to re-sign after the season.  Not-too-bad-case scenario, Kluber returns to elite form but the Rangers struggle so they trade him mid-season and get some decent prospects back.  Mediocre-case scenario, Kluber pitches good but not elite so the Rangers try to trade him if possible or just ride him out for the season.  Worst-case scenario, the entire season is cancelled due to the current pandemic, Kluber becomes a free agent without ever pitching an inning for the Rangers, and the team literally gets nothing for their trade.

Prospect to Watch
Nick Solak

The Rangers have two players in the Top 100 Prospects, but neither of them crack the top 50 or will be ready until at least 2021.  In fact, the highest prospect that has a chance at having a big league impact in 2020 is their 5th best prospect Nick Solak.  This utility man barely maintained his prospect status in 2019 after playing in 33 games for Texas with some success.  He hit .293 with 5 home runs and 17 RBI's in 116 at bats which was good for a 123 OPS+.  He should see time in the outfield, at second or third, or possibly at DH in 2020.  If he keeps hitting like he did in his short time last year, the Rangers will find room for him in the lineup.

2020 Prediction
4th in AL West

The Rangers are definitely an interesting team that is taking steps forward, but their offseason lacked the splash to really make them competitive in the AL West.  If they had landed Rendon instead of the Angels, I probably would have them higher and in the hunt for a playoff spot.  Since they missed out on him (to a division rival no less), they are a team to watch but won't be knocking on the door of the playoffs.

Fearless Prediction
Three players on the Rangers' Opening Day roster retire after the 2020 season.

This is a bit of a far-fetched prediction, but hear me out.  The most likely to retire is Shin-Soo Choo who is entering his age 37 season.  He is still an effective hitter, but he is reaching an age that the end is near.  The next potential candidate for retirement is new 3rd baseman Todd Frazier.  Entering his age 34 season, the Toddfather has really turned into quite the journeyman the last few seasons.  His bat remains legit, but I could see the end on the horizon if this season goes sideways and there isn't a job waiting for him somewhere in 2021.  The next candidate is Corey Kluber.  Also entering his age 34 season, if the injuries don't clear up and he can't return to peak form, I could see an elite player like Kluber calling it quits if he can't be elite anymore.  The chances all three of these guys retire after this season?  Probably pretty rare, but I am going for broke here.

Monday, March 30, 2020

2020 Pre-Season Profile: Colorado Rockies


The Colorado Rockies flipped their record in 2019, following up two straight trips to the playoffs with a disappointing 90 loss season.  Will 2020 bring them back to playoff form or will they continue to spiral into obscurity?

2019 Predictions
#7 - 2nd in NL West, WILD CARD, lose in NLDS
MIH: David Dahl
MIP: Kyle Freeland
PTW: Brendan Rodgers
FP: Nolan Arenado will win the National League MVP.

2019 Results
#22 - 71-91, 4th in NL West

Boy, did I have the Rockies 2019 season wrong!  I saw the Rockies getting back to the playoffs for a third season in a row.  Instead, the season got away from them and fell apart.  David Dahl only played in 100 games, but the team offense was fine with five players topping 20 home runs (even though only 3 of them ended up with an OPS+ over 100 ... Mile High bias...).  The pitching is really what fell flat.  Jon Gray had a standout season, but my Most Important Pitcher Kyle Freeland was much more the norm, finishing with a 6.73 ERA in just over 100 innings, earning a 77 ERA+.  2019 was supposed to be the year Brendan Rodgers broke out as well, but instead he only played in 25 disappointing games at the big league level before getting injured and missing the rest of the season.  As for Arenado's shot at an MVP, the team needed to be better.  With that said, he finished 6th in the voting, earned his 5th straight All Star appearance, his 7th straight Gold Glove (which is how many years he has been in the league), and his 3rd straight Platinum Glove, designating him as the best defender in the National League regardless of position.  Instead of discussions of how valuable he is to the Rockies, the talk instead went to whether or not he and his newly signed monstrous contract should be traded.

Additions / Subtractions

An interesting aspect of the Rockies' current situation is after a disappointing 90 loss season, they made zero significant roster changes.  Outside of injured players returning, the Rockies will run the same lineup out on Opening Day that they had to end 2019.  The most significant storyline in the offseason was the fact that Nolan Arenado is still a Rockie.

Most Important Hitter
Trevor Story

If the Rockies are going to compete in 2020, it is going to be on the back of their offense.  Although Arenado may be their best player, the emerging superstar on the team is Trevor Story.  After a breakout season in 2016 and a setback year in 2017, Story has had two straight years where he has made the All Star Team and won the NL shortstop Silver Slugger.  With the chances Nolan Arenado sticks around Colorado much longer definitely up in the air, Story will need to be the face of the franchise through a possible full rebuild ... or be traded himself.

Most Important Pitcher
German Marquez

Jon Gray was the best pitcher on the Rockies staff last season, but German Marquez was definitely second best.  With that said, there was definitely some regression from his previous two seasons.  He is only entering his age 25 season, which means some hiccups like 2019 are bound to happen.  If the Rockies are going to be any good in 2020, the pitching has to be much better, and that starts with Marquez emerging as a possible ace of the staff to go along with Gray.

Prospect to Watch
Brendan Rodgers

The Rockies have a lackluster farm system (which is why trading Arenado is on the table) only boasting one player in baseball's Top 100 prospects.  That one player is Brendan Rodgers.  I don't like highlighting the same prospect two years in a row, but I really have no choice with him being by far their best prospect and the only prospect in their top 6 that has a chance of playing in the big leagues this season.  Rodgers is a middle infielder that can really hit.  He was taken 3rd overall in the 2015 draft behind fellow shortstops Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman.  Rodgers has taken longer to work his way to the big leagues because he was a high school standout instead of a proven college player.  The biggest issue facing Rodgers and the possible impact he could have in 2020 is the fact that there is nowhere for him to play.  Ryan McMahon emerged in 2019 as a legitimate everyday player at second base, and unless there is an injury (or trade), the left side of the infield is pretty well set for awhile.  So we will see how Rodgers gets in the lineup, but his talent deserves to play.

2020 Prediction
4th in NL West

I am not optimistic about the Rockies' chances in 2020.  Their current roster makeup doesn't seem to be working anymore, they did nothing to address it in the offseason, and they have very little coming up to help them from their farm system.  Combine that with the other three teams in their division predicted above them gaining momentum right now, and it is going to be a disappointing season in Colorado.

Fearless Prediction
Nolan Arenado will not be on the Rockies' roster in 2021.

It is the only real storyline in Colorado right now.  Will Nolan Arenado remain in Colorado?  He is one of the best players in baseball right now, and he seems to be available for the right price.  There already appeared to be some drama between Arenado and the front office of the Rockies for even considering the possibility this offseason.  Now it seems inevitable at some point.  It also looks like it might be the right move to make.  The Rockies are stuck right now.  They had their peak, and now they have a stagnant roster of established stars that can't seem to win together.  They need to start to build for their next competitive window instead of holding on to this one.  Trading Arenado would bring back a prospect package that would give an instant jump start to their lackluster farm system.  It would also give an opportunity on the infield for Brendan Rodgers to make his mark.  The only thing that can save Arenado in Colorado is a playoff run in 2020.  I don't see that happening, so instead his days in Denver are numbered.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

2020 Pre-Season Profile: Kansas City Royals


The Kansas City Royals are starting fresh in 2020 with a new manager as they attempt to rebuild their roster back to the World Series caliber team they were just five short years ago.  Will this season see some progress toward their goal?

2019 Predictions
#29 - 5th in AL Central
MIH: Adalberto Mondesi
MIP: Danny Duffy
PTW: Nicky Lopez
FP: The Royals will not trade away any lineup pieces mid-season.

2019 Results
#27 - 59-103, 4th in AL Central

Somehow, the Royals were able to lose over 100 games and stay out of the cellar.  This speaks more to how bad the Tigers were than anything.  The Royals have entered full rebuild mode with only three players left over from their 2015 World Series win (Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Danny Duffy ... four if you want to count a random postseason appearance by a then 19 year old Adalberto Mondesi).  Although Mondesi is continuing to be a solid player in the big leagues, the youngster still hasn't taken the leap that his talent level promised when he was a prospect.  It seems as if the best of Danny Duffy is behind him, as he hasn't become the lockdown ace it looked like he could be in 2016 and 2017.  Nicky Lopez showed enough in 2019 to be entering the 2020 season as the team's starting second baseman, moving perennial All Star Whit Merrifield to centerfield, but he still has a lot to prove.  As far as my prediction, the Royals were indeed very quiet in terms of trades during the season.  Although Merrifield is constantly part of trade rumors, the Royals want to keep guys like that around instead of using him to help build the future.

Additions / Subtractions

The Royals are entering 2020 with almost the exact same roster they had at the end of 2019.  The one addition they made was bringing in former Phillie Maikel Franco to man the hot corner.  They also re-signed leftfielder Alex Gordon for his age 36 season, more out of loyalty than anything.  The biggest change to the Royals this season is the retirement of their World Series manager Ned Yost who was replaced by former catcher and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.  Matheny seems like the perfect guy to lead this team.

Most Important Hitter
Salvador Perez

Salvador Perez is a 6 time All Star catcher with 5 Gold Gloves and 3 Silver Sluggers.  He was also the MVP of the 2015 World Series.  When the Royals needed to start a rebuild and move on from the core of their World Series roster, Perez was the one of the few they kept, locking him up through 2021.  With all that said, this is an important season for Sal.  He is coming off a lost 2019 season after Tommy John surgery was needed last spring.  So he is going to have to fight through the rust and fatigue of missing all that time while also mentoring the young pitching staff trying to find their way and return to his Gold Glove caliber play.  If is a tough challenge, but if anyone is up to it, it is Sal Perez.

Most Important Pitcher
Brad Keller

The best pitcher on the Royals last year was Brad Keller.  In his second season in the big leagues, Keller posted a 4.19 ERA, a 113 ERA+, and a 2.8 WAR.  Now he is entering 2020 (his age 24 season) as their ace and needs to take another leap forward to solidify the top of their rotation.  Look for Keller to be one of the quiet success stories of the 2020 season.

Prospect to Watch
Brady Singer

The Royals' farm system is still a work in progress.  They have three players in the top 100 prospects, topped by last year's #2 overall pick Bobby Witt Jr. at #10.  However, the majority of their prospects are still a few seasons away from making a big league impact.  The exception to that is pitcher Brady Singer.  A 2018 1st round pick out of Florida, Singer worked his way all the way up to AA in his first taste of pro ball.  His sinker/slider combo plays at any level and should start to establish himself at the top of the Royals' rotation at some point this season.

2020 Prediction
4th in AL Central

Much like last season, the only thing keeping the Royals from the cellar of the AL Central will be the struggles of the Detroit Tigers.  With that said, I see the Royals taking some baby steps forward.  Keeping their veteran core around, while unconventional in today's MLB, is allowing for the youngsters to come along slowly and learn from the best.  Like I said, I think the Matheny hire was a home run for the Royals.  With all this said, the best description for the Royals in 2020 is ... boring.  For the most part, they are going to be a boring team.  They are in a rare spot in baseball these days.  They are not stockpiled to win now, and their farm system is not stockpiled for a rebuild.  They also don't seem to be working at achieving one of those goals very quickly.  Instead, they are just ... boring.  They will win some games, they will lose more, but it doesn't seem like 2020 is really progressing towards much of anything.

Fearless Prediction
Jorge Soler will hit less than 24 home runs in 2020.

The breakout star for the Royals in 2020 was by far Jorge Soler.  Formerly a top prospect of the Cubs, Soler had really struggled to find his place in the big leagues.  His career high in games played before 2019 was 101, and his career high in homers was 12.  Then came 2019, where he played in all 162 games and led the AL with 48 home runs.  Did he finally figure it out, or was it a fluke?  I am betting on it being a fluke.  Look for his home run total to be around half of what it was last year.  Either that, or he hits 50+.  It will be one or the other.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

2020 Pre-Season Profile: Seattle Mariners


The Seattle Mariners started an epic rebuild in 2019, turning over almost their entire roster with an eye towards the long term future.  Will 2020 already show some results of the roster reset?

#20 - 4th in AL West
MIH: Dee Gordon
MIP: Marco Gonzales
PTW: Justus Sheffield
FP: Felix Hernandez will not finish the season on the Mariners roster.

2019 Result
#25 - 68-94 - 5th in AL West

The Mariners had one of the strangest seasons in baseball history in 2019.  They started the season with a ridiculous 13-2 run.  Then they floundered the rest of the way, posting one of the worst records in baseball.  They became the first team in baseball history to be both 10 game above .500 and 10 games below .500 before Memorial Day.  Their roster had a ridiculous amount of turnover throughout the season, with veterans like Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, Mike Leake, Anthony Swarzak, and Hunter Strickland getting traded mid-season to contenders.  It was thought that Dee Gordon could be one of those trade candidates, but he couldn't stay healthy enough (or good enough).  Same goes for King Felix, who spent more time on the IL than on the roster in 2019, making my prediction fall flat.  Justus Sheffield was definitely a disappointment as well.  Starting the year with the idea that he would be in the rotation in the first couple months, he instead was demoted to AA and spent most of the season there instead, dropping from a top 100 prospect in baseball to being the 13th best prospect in the Mariners' system.  Marco Gonzales was a bright spot for the Mariners, being one of the most consistent starters in the league and posting a 200 inning season, something only a 15 pitchers did in 2019.  It earned him an offseason extension.  With all this said, the 2019 Mariners season will be remembered for two picture perfect sendoffs to two Mariner legends the bookended the season.  First, there was the official retirement of Ichiro in Tokyo following the Mariners two game opening series there.  Then in September came the last start for Felix Hernandez as a Mariner.  Both moments were unforgettable and exactly what they deserved.

Additions / Subtractions

General Manager Jerry DiPoto has earned a reputation since joining the Mariners as a constant roster adjuster.  He is always wheeling and dealing and reshaping his team.  However, with all the moves during the 2019 offseason and season, it set up for a quiet 2020 offseason.  Some didn't believe he was capable of that, and moves were made, but it did turn out to be relatively uneventful.  Leaving the team via free agency were starters Tommy Milone, Wade LeBlanc, and King Felix as well as outfielder Domingo Santana.  Starting catcher Omar Narvaez was traded to Milwaukee.  Added to the roster were some veterans in the rotation in Kendall Graveman and Taijuan Walker to hold positions until more of the prospects are ready.  Outside of a few bullpen pieces, that was it.  Like I said, a quiet offseason for DiPoto's Mariners.

Most Important Hitter
Daniel Vogelbach

Last season, the Mariners only had one All Star.  That All Star was DH Daniel Vogelbach, who got off to a great start to the year.  In fact, it was his fast start that allowed the Mariners to trade veterans like Encarnacion and Bruce so early.  However, by the All Star Game, there were already signs of a slump, and the second half of 2019 saw Vogelbach become one of the worst hitters in baseball.  After hitting .310 with 8 home runs in April, he hit only .162 with 6 home runs after the All Star Break.  Last season was one where Vogelbach needed to prove he belongs.  Now, he needs to prove he should be a part of the long term plans of the Mariners.  To do that, with all the talent the Mariners have coming through their system, he needs to find some consistency.

Most Important Pitcher
Yusei Kikuchi

Speaking of showing they belong, Yusei Kikuchi was really the Mariners only big free agent signing in 2019.  The Japanese import was looked at as a potential ace after a successful career across the Pacific.  In his first season of big league baseball, the 28 year old struggled with a 5.46 ERA and an 80 ERA+.  The Mariners picked him up hoping he could anchor the rotation along with Marco for the foreseeable future.  Now, Kikuchi needs to show he can take a leap forward and prove he can be a formidable starter in the big leagues.

Prospect to Watch
Evan White

Through their crazy offseason rebuild in 2019, the Mariners have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball.  Currently, they have 5 players listed in the top 100 prospects in baseball with two in the top 20.  Many of their top prospects are almost ready to burst on the scene with several others already there.  There is a possibility as many as 3 or 4 rookies start Opening Day in Seattle with others coming along mid-season (unless the delay to the start of the season pushes their timeline back a year).  Of this group starting the season in the big leagues, the most exciting is definitely first baseman Evan White.  Ranked #56 in all of baseball, this 23 year old former 1st round pick from 2017 signed a 6 year big league contract with the Mariners this offseason before ever playing a big league game.  That's how much confidence they have in his potential.  At his worst, he is a Gold Glove caliber first baseman as many say he might have been the best defender at any position in all the minor leagues last season.  He can also hit too, as last season he showed some great potential in his approach at the plate.  With the big league contract already in hand, look for White to get every opportunity to learn and develop at the big league level in 2020 while picking it better than anyone around.

2020 Prediction
5th in AL West

There is a lot to be excited about in Seattle and the direction they are heading, but let's not kid ourselves.  2020 is going to be rough.  The M's are only starting one "veteran" on Opening Day and that is 3rd baseman Kyle Seager (thanks to former All Star Mitch Haniger's constant injury issues).  The rest of the team are youngsters trying to prove themselves.  They are exciting youngsters, and the next wave behind them is even more exciting, but that won't bring about success in 2020.  The only reason the Mariners are not lower on my list is the fact that so many of these young prospects are due to hit the big leagues in 2020 and bring a spark and some excitement to the roster throughout the season.

Fearless Prediction
The Mariners will not have a single reliever with more than 10 saves.

The biggest Achilles heel of the Mariners last season, among many things, was their bullpen.  There was a constant revolving door of pitchers as they were constantly trying to find the right combination of rookies and reclamation projects to make a serviceable group.  They never found it.  In that search, they also never found a consistent closer, with 9 different relievers recording a save, and the leader (Roenis Elias who was traded mid-season) only posting 14.  The Mariners are not going to win a whole bunch of games, and with there not being any obvious choice for closer entering the season, look for the load to be shared once again with the reliever that is struggling the least any particular day to get the ball in the 9th.

Friday, March 27, 2020

2020 Pre-Season Profile: San Francisco Giants


The San Francisco Giants sent Bruce Bochy off to retirement in 2019 with an unexpected run at a possible playoff spot.  What can be expected of the Giants now that their legendary leader has moved on?

#24 - 5th in NL West
MIH: Steven Duggar
MIP: Dereck Rodriguez
PTW: Tyler Beede
FP: Madison Bumgarner will be traded to the Brewers mid-season.

2019 Results
#19 - 77-85, 3rd in NL West

I had a lot of things wrong in my predictions for the Giants last season.  After bringing in new GM Farhan Zaidi, the general expectation was that a rebuild would start immediately.  Two things changed that plan: Bruce Bochy announcing 2019 would be his last season, and the team actually playing pretty good for most of the year.  The fact that the team played well is kind of head scratching all things considered.  I predicted their Most Important Hitter last year would be Steven Duggar, who only played 73 games and is starting 2020 in the minors.  I said their Most Important Pitcher was Dereck Rodriguez, who had a terrible season and is fighting to stay in the rotation starting 2020.  Tyler Beede got a decent amount of playing time in 2019 but didn't break out, and now he is out for all of 2020 with Tommy John surgery.  Everything I thought needed to happen for the Giants to have some success last year didn't happen, and they had more success than anyone expected.  Even ace Madison Bumgarner, who everyone thought was going to be traded mid-season, ended up riding out the rest of 2019 with the Giants before hitting the free agent market simply because the Giants were trying to contend.  Never underestimate the magic of Bruce Bochy.

Additions / Subtractions

It is rare that the change of manager can so greatly alter a franchise, but Bochy had been around for so long and had come to define who the Giants were that his retirement is the biggest subtraction of the offseason.  Replacing him is the young, energetic, analytics-driven (everything Bochy isn't) Gabe Kapler, fresh off his failed managerial gig with the Phillies.  The other big subtraction was the inevitable departure of Madison Bumgarner, who signed with division rival Arizona.  The additions this offseason resemble a team starting a rebuild, as the Giants brought in a bunch of veterans looking to rebound and possibly be traded mid-season.  So enter starting pitchers like Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, and Tyson Ross as well as Giants legend Hunter Pence returning to the Bay Area.  Possibly the most interesting addition for the team is the return of Johnny Cueto, who was out for almost all of 2019 with Tommy John.

Most Important Hitter
Mike Yastrzemski

One of the best stories of 2019 on any team was the story of Mike Yastrzemski.  With a name like that, it is hard to hide the family relation.  The grandson of Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, Mike made his debut in 2019 which everyone paid attention to, mainly because of the family connection.  Then, something unexpected happened; he was really good.  Mike finished the season with a .272 average, 21 homers, 55 RBI, .518 slugging, and a 123 OPS+.  His 2.8 WAR was third on the Giants behind only Jeff Samardzija and MadBum, making him the best position player on the team, all this in only 107 games.  Having played himself into the Giants long term plans, little Yaz is now entering 2020 as the everyday centerfielder.  However, the question is can he repeat his production?  If his sophomore season is anything like his rookie year, the Giants just found yet another gem to be a foundational piece moving forward.

Most Important Pitcher
Jeff Samardzija

Let's not kid ourselves, this is a rebuilding year for the Giants.  With Bochy gone, no one expects to see the miraculous run of 2019 again.  With that said, a lot of veterans are going to be playing for what a possible trade mid-season.  The most likely candidate for that is Jeff Samardzija.  Samardzija is entering the final year of his 5 year, $90 million deal he signed with the Giants, and outside of one injury-plagued year, he has really pitched well for them.  Last season, he was their best player in terms of WAR.  Now he is entering his age 35 season and a walk year.  A solid 2020 campaign might bring about one more decent payday for Samardzija as well as a possible mid-season trade to a contender.  I think he gets traded regardless, however how much he brings back is dependent on how well he performs.

Prospect to Watch
Joey Bart

As the Giants have taken a downward turn the last few seasons, one positive has been the replenishing of a depleted farm system.  The Giants had now prospects in the top 100 just a few short years ago.  Now they have five prospects ranking among the league's best, and the top of the list should make a splash in 2020.  Joey Bart is a former #2 overall pick in the 2018 draft and now the 14th best prospect in all of baseball.  This catcher is really the whole package.  He can hit, has power, and has the potential to be a Gold Glove caliber defender behind the plate.  The face of the Giants franchise for the last decade has been catcher Buster Posey, however look for him to move to another position so Joey Bart can become the new face of the Giants for the next decade.

2020 Prediction
5th in NL West

Last season, Farhan Zaidi was brought in to rebuild the Giants from the ground up using the new age model that teams like the Rays and Dodgers have mastered.  That plan was stalled for a year after Bruce Bochy had one last heroic run in him.  Now that he is retired, look for the full rebuild to take shape.  The Giants are not competing this year, but they are headed in the right direction.  I was not a fan of Gabe Kapler in Philly, but I think he fits well in San Fran.  He is like the Jason Kidd of MLB.  You could see him being a good coach/manager, but you don't start him off with a star-studded, win now roster.  You start him with a young rebuilding roster.  The Phillies were Kapler's Brooklyn Nets, and the Giants are Kapler's Milwaukee Bucks.  He can learn and grow along with his roster.  I like what they are doing, but it won't lead to success in 2020.

Fearless Prediction
Half of the Giants' Opening Day lineup will not be on the roster by the end of the season.

One of the biggest problems with a rebuild is the veterans that are still under contract that block the young prospects from getting experience.  The Giants are filled with that problem, especially on the infield.  Players like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, and even Buster Posey are entering their mid-30's likely not to be on the roster when the Giants are ready to compete again.  In a true rebuild, players like these get traded when they might have maximum value.  That could very well be mid-season for most of these players, especially Belt, Crawford, Longoria, and others like Hunter Pence and maybe even Johnny Cueto.  Something needs to happen to make room for both Joey Bart and Buster Posey in the lineup.  I see a lot of roster movement and turnover in 2020 for the Giants.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

2020 Pre-Season Profile: Pittsburgh Pirates


Today was supposed to be Opening Day, and it really makes me sad that we are reminded more how this worldwide quarantine is affecting our lives than celebrating one of my favorite days of the entire calendar.  However, the day will come, and when it does it will mean so much more than ever before.  In the meantime, let's keep going with my pre-season power rankings and previews.  Today's spotlight is on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  After peaking in the mid-2010's, there is very little left of those playoff teams.  Will 2020 make them competitive again, or will it continue their downward trend?

#23 - 5th in NL Central
MIH: Josh Bell
MIP: Chris Archer
PTW: Ke'Bryan Hayes
FP: This will be Clint Hurdle's last season managing the Pirates.

2019 Results
#24 - 69-93, 5th in NL Central

When all is said and done, the Pirates might be my greatest triumph in prognosticating the 2019 season.  I correctly predicted their cellar finish in their division, missing their overall rank by only one spot (actual rank determined by draft position).  I said Josh Bell was their most important hitter, and he had the best season of his young career, hitting 37 homers with 116 RBI's with a 143 OPS+ and his first All Star appearance.  Chris Archer was indeed an important piece in their pitching staff, but after a career worst season in 2018, he followed it up with an even worse season in 2019 in his first full season in Pittsburgh.  It is looking like this might be one of the most lopsided trades of the decade (the Pirates gave up up-and-coming outfield Austin Meadows, potential ace Tyler Glasnow, and former first round pitcher Shane Baz to the Rays to get Archer).  I thought Ke'Bryan Hayes might get an accelerated track to the big leagues in 2019, but his debut will probably come this year instead.  Then my fearless prediction came true.  Clint Hurdle, the man who took the Pirates back to the playoffs for the first time since Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla and one of the most respected managers in baseball, was fired after the season.  I kinda nailed what the 2019 season for the Pirates was going to be!

Additions / Subtractions

The biggest addition for the Pirates this offseason was their new manager Derek Shelton, coming over from Minnesota where he was the bench coach.  Outside of some minor additions like pitcher Derek Holland and outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia, that is about it for what has come in to the organization.  The biggest subtraction this offseason was the trade of Starling Marte, the face of their franchise since Andrew McCutchen left a few years ago.

Most Important Hitter
Bryan Reynolds

Outside of Josh Bell's All Star season, the two biggest bright spots for the Pirates in 2019 were rookies Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman.  These two unknowns quickly became two of the team's best players, finishing the season as the Pirates' two top players in terms of WAR (4.1 for Reynolds, 3.1 for Newman).  Reynolds was definitely the eye-opener.  A former 2nd round pick and the centerpiece of the package that came to Pittsburgh in the Andrew McCutchen trade with the Giants in 2018, Reynolds made his debut in April and never looked back.  He hit .314 with 16 homers and 68 RBI's in 134 games, rounding out to a 131 OPS+ and finishing 4th in the Rookie of the Year vote behind phenoms like Pete Alonso, Mike Soroka, and Fernando Tatis Jr.  The Pirates see Reynolds (and Newman) as the start of their new wave of great young talent.  If he takes another leap forward like he did last season, he will be an All Star in 2020 and the face of the franchise.

Most Important Pitcher
Chris Archer

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that the Pirates get something out of Chris Archer.  A player that was once one of the brightest young arms in the game, Archer is entering his age 31 season looking like his career is almost over.  In 2019, he went 3-9 with a 5.19 ERA and an 82 ERA+, well below average.  The Pirates paid for Archer as an ace and a top 10 pitcher in the game.  He has been one of their worst starters since he has arrived.  In a move that the Pirates thought was building towards a future cornerstone of their next wave of talent, they are just hoping Archer shows some flashes of his younger self to give him some trade value in his contract year.  Otherwise, they will have given up three top-tier prospects (two already splashing in the big leagues) for basically no production.

Prospect to Watch
Mitch Keller

The Pirates have three players in baseball's top 100 prospects, with two expected to be ready to make a major league impact in 2020.  One is Ke'Bryan Hayes who I mentioned last year.  The other is pitcher Mitch Keller.  Keller made his big league debut in 2019 and barely stayed under the innings limit to still be considered a "prospect," starting 11 games with mediocre results (1-5, 7.13 ERA), however don't be turned off by the early results.  He has a mid to upper 90's fastball with a nasty curve and slider.  He started the 2018 Futures Game, showing how the industry recognizes his star potential.  While other rookies will be looked at to get experience and show what they can do, Keller might have some added pressure entering the Pirates' rotation day one.  First, he has had his debut and got a decent amount of exposure to the big leagues last year.  Second, and most importantly, with a floundering Chris Archer and an injured Jameson Taillon (out for probably all of 2020 with Tommy John), the Pirates need Keller to be more than just a rookie trying to find his way.  Their success in 2020 is going to be closely tied to Keller's success, perhaps more so than any other rookie in the league.

2020 Prediction
5th in NL Central

This was one of the easiest predictions I had to make.  The Pirates are in a rebuild and have some serious potential moving forward.  However, this season is going to be rough simply because the other four teams in their division are all legit playoff contenders.  In fact, very few teams in the National League would be labeled as "rebuilding."  It's possible the Pirates take some big steps forward and finish with a similar or worse record just because of the level of competition.

Fearless Prediction
Chris Archer will be traded before the end of the season for one mid-level prospect.

I don't mean to obsess over this storyline, but I find it the most interesting part of what is happening in Pittsburgh right now.  Chris Archer will not be a part of the Pirates organization the next time they are competitive.  If that is the case, they need to try and separate themselves as soon as possible.  I have always liked Archer, and I will be rooting for him to have a rebound season, but it is starting to remind me of rooting for Felix Hernandez to bounce back the last couple seasons ... it just kept getting worse.  However, if Archer does bounce back, and he is able to show signs he could return to something resembling the ace he was in Tampa, the Pirates should unload him for whatever prospects they can get.  He does have a club option for 2021 at $11 million, but I don't see that being picked up.  The Pirates will be buying at the peak and selling at the basement, but it is all they have.  Let's just hope Archer is able to pitch well enough to make him valuable enough to be sold.